Monthly Archives: March 2013

Goldberg’s Test II: “I Remember”

In  Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir, Natalie Goldberg gives readers first response practice via mini tests sporadically placed throughout her text.  Test questions require three minutes of thoughtful first responses, for according to Goldberg, first responses are the most honest, and therefore, creative and engaging.  My response to her Test II are below.  


1. Mrs. Raffa, my third grade teacher at Miami Lakes Elementary (MLE), became angry with me and my classmate, Linda Bethel; we were the only two black students in her all-white classroom.  Linda and I were horseplaying after class, hitting one another with our bookbags.  As trivial as our behavior was, Mrs. Raffa thought it newsworthy enuf to play towncrier and run and tell my mother–who was one of the few African-American teachers there.  (My mother and some of her black middle school classmates integrated MLE in 1965.)  I think Mrs. Raffa, who didn’t seem as white to my 8 year old self as she does now, had been itching to find a reason to chastise my black classmate and me.

2. I first learned to read–or perhaps became cognizant of my inability to thoughtfully do so–about ten years ago when I first entered the high school classroom as a 10-12 grade English teacher.  Part of my job was to assist learners with their reading skills.  All too often teachers (and their students) assume that calling out words is sufficient reading practice.  However, reading transcends speed and word pronunciation.  Reading well includes the ability to comprehend and make meaning of direct and indirect messages.  It means wholeheartedly (mind, body, and soul) engaging an author as awell as her characters.

3. Natalie Goldberg says, “Teach me something.” My response: “I’ll teach you how to breathe.” I teach what I love and what I need more practice learning myself.  Breathing is vital, and it reminds people that they are alive in this very moment.  As a matter of fact, Thich Nhat Hanh says that the present moment is the only place wherein one can achieve freedom.  How AWEsome is that?  To be alive?  To be here, right now, with no expectations or obligations, except to simply breathe and be. So, Natalie, I’d teach you how to breathe.  For if one learns to focus on her breath, especially during difficult times, she will gradually detach from stressful feelings and behaviors and experience freedom.

4. I remember my bald-headed grandfather, Samuel.  He was a deacon at Antioch Misssionary Baptist Church, and besides my own father, he was the man of my life.  He called me “Slow Motion,” ’cause he claims I took my time learning how to walk.  “Slow Motion, come over here and sit on Granddaddy’s lap.” He was such a small man, but he insisted on our intimacy, and it was absolutely big and warm.  He died while I was in elementary school, and I have not known such comfort and ease in a man since.

Contemplating Dying: My Apologies to Natalie Goldberg, For I Found Myself Wanting Death

A Note to Readers: The blog entry below is a response to Natalie Goldberg’s writing prompt “Die” taken from Old Friend from Far Away:The Practice of Writing Memoir.  Improving Writing students were rquired to spend 10 minutes of non-stop writing in reponse to a prompt of their choice; I blogged with them. After class, students were required to re-read their freewrites–to thoughtfully examine their content–and then to rewrite (or type) their responses in a blog.  The link below provides readers my 10-minute in-class freewrite. The blog that follows became something much different.  

10-Minute Freewrite on Goldberg’s “Die” 030113

Lately, I have not been afraid to die.  As a matter of fact, last night I invited death into my bedroom–to take me while I was asleep.  I mighta even begged it to.  That way, I wouldn’t be in pain.  There’d be no mess.  No theatrics.  My dogs would be left alone, however.  Having to pee.  Wanting to go outside.  Wanting me to greet them with my usual kisses on their foreheads. How would they know that I would never come down the steps to relieve them? To greet them?  To give them kisses all over their faces? Would they miss me?  Would my body quickly decay in the 79 degrees of heat that warms my living space? Would my neighbors eventually smell me–or hear the dogs barking–as I suspect they eventually would.  Would the maintenance man enter my home and discover my dead body–sans pajama bottoms–in my bed?  Would he reach for my cell phone to call for help and find, it, too, is dead.  (Because the only two people in my life who call me on a daily basis has called me incessantly, thus killing the battery.) My mother wouldn’t even know I am dead.  She only calls every now and then, which doesn’t bother me–really.  But maybe my Ruzzle friends and my Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram friends would realize my failure to post–to reach out into cyberspace in search of a connected space–and realize I’ve been disconnected.  Maybe they will connect with each other in trying to reconnect with me and realize I am missing.  How long would I lay there, dead, before the world notices I have left it?

Last night I wanted to die cause I found myself reattached to memories that keep me in static places.  Tibetan Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön calls it “stuckness.”  She says our mind has the tendency to stay stuck in dis-ease that mindfulness practices, like loving meditation, can free our minds from.  But, last night I found myself stuck on a memory that cripples me, and I wanted to die–because death is a freedom that requires no practice.

I just wanted to be over it already.  To forget her.  To not feel her.  Miss her.  Want her.  To not be reminded of every single event that made me feel worthless, insecure, and empty.  How can one person have so much power over another’s selfworth?  How could I have given her so much of that power?  I wanted to die last night cause I wanted to stop remembering.  For, remembering sticks me up and keeps me in a stuckness; and I feel so uneasy.  I imagine that stuckness looks like Jocko Graves, who spent hours in cold winter air waiting for General George Washington, until he froze; he–stuck, upright, holding a got damn horse and a lantern.  His dying was his freedom–freed from slavery, oppression, and dehumanization.  And now, centuries later, Jocko’s more alive standing erect as a statue dorning white folks’ lawns then he was a black boy living in America.  Will she remember me like that when I die?  Will the paintings, poems, and postcards I gifted her be the memorabilia that makes me more alive to her when I am dead than I am right now as a living, breathing human being?